As networked, broadband homes become ubiquitous, manufacturers are developing intriguing new control solutions that leverage the IP infrastructure of these intelligent homes.
One of the more innovative residential IP products that I have evaluated over the last year comes from a company called Accuwater, based in Austin, Texas. Accuwater has developed a sprinkler control system (for 16 to 48 zones, available in residential and commercial enclosures) that combines the intelligence of an Internet-based irrigation server with local weather information to optimally water a homes landscaping.
After purchasing and installing an AccuWater controller (a 16-zone residential unit is about $500), you connect it via Cat-5 wire to your home network. The sprinkler zone wires connect to the contacts in the controller in the same manner as they would in any conventional irrigation controller. Once the wiring is complete, you can begin programming the system for your specific landscaping requirements.
As the Accuwater controller starts up, it acquires an IP address from the local router in the home and becomes part of the homes network. You can browse to that IP address and get information on the irrigation controllers watering history, status, etc. The next step is to log onto AccuWaters website to create an account and a location. You can then register your controller and attach it to that location. Once this action is complete, you can begin the task of programming each of your sprinkler zones.
Accuwaters site will guide you through a series of questions about each sprinkler zone. You complete information on the type of plants to be watered, the soil, the amount of sun exposure, the area of the watering zone, and the water flow rate. Processing this information for each zone coupled with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) based weather for your location allows Accuwater to calculate exactly how long to irrigate each zone and how often irrigation needs to occur. Accuwaters server plans this irrigation schedule and sends it to your controller each dayyou can also have the server e-mail you a copy of the irrigation status by zone.
Conventional residential programmable sprinkler systems can easily over or under water landscaping because they are usually set to run for specific run times independent of the local weather conditions. Not only can the plants and lawn suffer as a result, it can also be a waste of water. For your clients with larger landscaped estates and/or second homes, excessive watering can unnecessarily add hundreds of dollars to their water bill each month. AccuWaters intelligent monitoring and processing system can control excessive water bills and potentially improve the appearance of the landscaping with their accurate irrigation control.
An additional benefit is that the sprinkler controls can now be enabled, viewed, and modified from any Internet-connected computer browser. Instead of trying to program your sprinkler system with a set of arcane instructions in the garage with a single-line LED user interface, you can sit in front of any computer and easily complete and execute the sprinkler programming parameters. Accuwater has even developed a JAVA-based application that can run on a cell phone or personal digital assistant so you can walk around your yard manually turning on and off sprinkler zones for test or irrigation purposes.
This is another one of those technologies that extends the custom installers expertise into the realm of another tradespecifically the landscape architect and gardener. By educating these trades on the benefits of these new intelligent sprinkler systems we can enhance the value of what they provide their clients and potentially stimulate sales leads for us. After all, if a client wants an IP-based sprinkler system they are most likely predisposed to have an interest in all of the other home technology that we provide. If we keep planting these IP seeds around our clients homes this winter, who knows what sales opportunities may sprout up this spring.